When It Rains It Pours

There are times when we are so happy that we believe nothing can go wrong. And then, out of the blue, problems come one by one or all at once. The reason for this is simple, life without any hardships does not exist. No matter what you do or how hard you try to control every situation, there will always be difficulties that will challenge your whole being. And when they arrive, be prepared because when it rains, it pours.

I do not handle stress well. I am so bad at it, so much so that it makes me physically and emotionally down. When something unexpected happens, I lose my temper. I cry when I am under so much pressure. Whenever I make a mistake, I become unfocused and tend to mess everything up after that. This being the case, I try to be ready for everything. I anticipate problems even before I encounter them. Avoiding anything that can stress me out is my solution. I thought if I do things right all the time, I will be fine. But I was wrong. We can’t always be perfect or flawless.

Imagine this. Everything is going well with your work. The teachers want to work with you forever. Your relationship with your students is fantastic. And you haven’t had any problems with the parents. Overall, you feel so happy and contented. However, at the end of the school year, when the homeroom teachers gave the report cards to the students, someone pointed out that her grade in your subject is wrong. Now that one mistake makes you panic a little bit. But it’s not a big deal… or not, because when you corrected that one mistake in your computer, you decided to check all the others. And as you go over your record, you realize that not just one or two students’ grades were wrong, but nine. NINE!

And all in all, eleven students will be affected. You couldn’t believe it. You know that you reviewed the grades over and over. And you checked them many times until you are sure they are all correct. But how stupid can you be to input 33 instead of 45 or 27 instead of 18, and so on?

It was a disaster. And you couldn’t give any excuses because there were none. You felt so bad because your mistakes troubled people. The homeroom teacher will have to visit the students in their homes and apologize to the parents during spring vacation. Instead of relaxing at home, she has to drive to different places to inform the families of the new grades. It makes you feel so guilty, and you wished that you could change the situation or go back to that time before you put in the scores. You cried that night and thought that there is no such thing as life without problems.

Nothing is permanent. Everyone makes mistakes. And even if you feel that life is going well for you, it won’t be like that forever. You have problems; you just don’t know them yet. It is the calm before the storm. That time, when you are so happy because things are doing great, and then suddenly things are going downhill. That’s the storm, a series of misfortunes happening all at once to strike you.

But don’t let your problems consume you. Face them head-on and turn your setbacks into comebacks. Accept that you were wrong and don’t escape the consequences.

I went to work early the next day. Instead of acting as if nothing happened, I talked to my bosses and apologized to each of them. I didn’t give any excuses. I just admitted that it was my mistake and that I will be more careful next time. It took me a lot of courage to ask for forgiveness and bow so many times. Although it was embarrassing at first, I didn’t feel less of a person after.

Mistakes are only failures if you don’t learn from them. When you turn them into learning experiences, they can help you become successful. Lastly, life is a series of endless adversities. When it rains, it pours. But the same goes for blessings. When one good thing happens, others follow. And after every storm comes a rainbow.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait and Work For It

When I started working, I was overwhelmed by my salary that I didn’t care about anything else. I was just happy earning, and I loved teaching too. Then every year, my workload increased, but nothing changed in what I get. In the first two years, I let it go thinking that I was being overpaid. But as I learn things and improve myself as a teacher, I was silently hoping for a change in my contract. However, I didn’t say anything about it and just accepted what they give me, hoping that maybe next year I’ll get what I want. That was a mistake.

My work

My work is from Mondays to Saturdays, and sometimes until Sundays too. I became the leading teacher in all my classes and assistant homeroom teacher to a junior high school grade seven months into my job because my Japanese co-teacher had to leave for a year and a half. I’m not going into details about everything I do in school. That’s for another post. But, whatever the workload is, no matter how stressful it became, I did them all. When my partner came back, I remained the main teacher and assistant homeroom teacher. But my contract stayed the same. I was waiting for it to change after my second year. When it didn’t, I voiced out my concerns.

Before I started my third year, I asked about my health insurance, pension, taxes, and bonus. The position I filled in was for a contractual employee. The salary is high, but it didn’t include the deductions. I had to pay them all on my own. I guess that is normal to some companies and schools, but I am here to stay, so I need security. After I brought this up to the office, the school enrolled me in their private health insurance and pension plan, and I get tax deductions now. However, the bonus, they say, I can get after five years if they decide to take me in after that.

The 5-Year Law

There is a law here in Japan that contractual employees can stay at a company without getting benefits for a maximum of 5 years. It’s to protect employees from employers who keep workers at contracts for a long period without giving them benefits. If they want an employee to work for them longer than five years, they have to make them permanent and give them benefits; otherwise, they have to let the workers go. I started working in October. So, my 5th year would be October 2021. The initial plan for me was, they let me go for six months and hire me back again in April 2022 for another five years. And when they hire me again, I thought, maybe then I can ask for a salary increase.

The Plans

Around the first quarter of 2020, I started preparing for the six months I won’t have work. These were some of my plans. Plan A: I thought about saving money and then studying Japanese full-time. Plan B: I can also begin to take a Master’s Degree while I help my mom in her restaurant. And plan C was to work for the organization in charge of our international school trips. This way, I could still see my students and work with the school. I also started asking around for a part-time or full-time job. I thought, if I’m not going to work for six months, I should use that time to study and improve myself as a teacher while still earning part-time.

Then in September 2020, our department was considering changing the textbooks for our first graders. I reminded the teachers that I’ll only be teaching half the year of 2021. I am grateful for the teachers’ support in my school because from here on, they fought for me.

The teachers didn’t want me to go even for just six months. My boss talked to the higher-ups, and they discussed about my case in their board meeting the next day. After a few more days, the school offered me permanent employment if I promise to get the Japanese teaching license soon. I told them I want to get it, which is why I am studying Japanese hard.

Now I won’t have to leave for six months, and I can teach until I’m 65. This made me and my mom so happy.

Renewing my Employment Contract

Since I started in the middle of the year, the school decided to start my new contract this April. So in March, I asked to talk about its details. When I saw it, some things changed. But it doesn’t give me enough security. So, I decided to show it to my co-workers. They didn’t like it very much as well. They said that they would help me if I want to make demands and have some more things cleared. I also asked for a second opinion from my Japanese teacher, who worked at a public school.

Then I talked to the principal and told her my concerns. She knows what I do and how much I work, and she told me I shouldn’t be shy in telling her what I want. I didn’t know then, but she said the teachers already talked to her and asked not to let me go and give me what I deserve. It almost made me cry then and there. I am not the kind of person who asks for things. If I want something, I work hard to get it. If I want something from people, I just silently hope for it. But if you notice it and give it to me, I’d appreciate you for the rest of my life.

“What is meant for you, will reach you even if it is beneath two mountains. What isn’t meant for you, won’t reach you even if it is between your two lips.”

Moving on, I told the school that I have been researching and asking around how to get the license. And it became clear to me how impossible it is to get it. I would have to enroll at a Japanese university and take an entire Education course in Japanese, write a thesis paper and teach at a public school for my training. All these while working full-time. I still want to get the license, but it’ll take a lot of years. But the school said that I can take my time. They only want me to have it, to be able to get the same benefits and contract as all the Japanese teachers.

I am very much happy with my new contract though. It has the benefits I need, and it gets better after a few years. That is what’s important to me. A job that gives me security and motivation to work harder and develop myself.

Lessons from the Experience

Lesson learned. NEVER SHY AWAY from asking for a raise, especially when you know you deserve it. Employers won’t just ask if you want to be paid more if not in your contract.

But work hard first, so you deserve what you are asking for.

And the thing is, not all HR knows how much you are working or how well you’re doing it, only the ones who you work with and most especially you. So if you don’t say anything first, nothing will happen. I am incredibly blessed to have the teachers and higher-ups all on my side.

Lastly, always review your contract and if it’s in Japanese, get it translated and make sure you understand every detail. When you sign with your bosses, have a translator with you if you can, or tell them that you will review your contract first and will get back to them if you have any questions. And no matter what you agree on, always put it on paper.

You’ve probably heard this before: good things come to those who wait, and great things take time. But while you are waiting, persevere and put in a lot of effort.

“Dreams are only dreams until you wake up and make them real.”

Ned Vizzini

Finally, if you think that you’ve waited enough and worked hard already, ask for it. Sometimes, it’s the last straw to getting what you want.

Learning About Japanese Zen Gardens

It is said that Kyoto is the center of Zen Buddhism in Japan, so the most sublime Zen temples are there. Japanese Zen gardens or karesansui, which means dry landscape gardens, are created by Buddhist monks to help with their meditation. Therefore, it is only fitting that Japanese gardens give people tranquility and peace of mind.

I first came to Japan in March 2015. And to celebrate my 3rd anniversary being here, I wanted to do something different and try something new. I sought to learn more about Japanese culture, history, and religion.

My mom and I went on a tour in Nanzen-ji Temple. Inside it is the Konchi-in temple. I didn’t know then, but it has one of the finest Zen gardens in Kyoto. Before the tour, I didn’t expect to learn much. I just wanted to bring my mom to see some beautiful scenery. When we were there, I was surprised to learn that Japanese rock gardens are full of symbolisms. You can sit there, look at the garden and let your imagination run wild with meanings and interpretations of everything. The rock and tree formations, landscape designs, and the temple’s interior designs all have meanings. Overall, I see Japanese gardens as beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. However, I didn’t know that every detail in the garden has cultural, religious, and historical representations.

Okay, here are some of the things I understood and remember based on my notes and the pictures I took.

This is the gate to the main temple. Most of the trees here are maple trees. So, imagine this place in autumn, primarily brown, orange, and red. I went in spring, by the way. There were cherry blossom trees, hence equally splendid. ❤️

And this is the way to the garden.

Rock formations

Rock formations in Zen gardens are sublime. They are very intricate and full of representations. You might notice that there is always the biggest rock, usually at the center. It represents the Buddha or the Supreme being or maybe the most superior in the picture. Surrounding it are the worshippers, children, or followers. I can actually imagine the smaller stones as people kneeling down and praying.

This formation is about a tiger story. The mother tiger (biggest rock) watching her children (smaller rocks) play.

Rocks also represent mountains, hills, and islands.

Sand or gravel

Japanese rock gardens are also called karesansui, meaning dry landscape gardens. The sand or gravel represents water. The monks carefully rake them every day to have that illusion of a wave or flowing water.

Trees

Konchi-in temple is the best example of a shakkei, meaning borrowed scenery. The garden gives you a two-dimensional scene, all thanks to the trees and hills in the background. The trees appear perfectly aligned, from the tallest ones to the shortest, flowing towards the rock formations. It is like the garden is extended even to the hills outside the temple. Our tour guide said that even the cut of the trees has meaning, and not just anyone can do it. In important places like this, only well-trained and informed gardeners can. And it takes them hours to trim the leaves of just one tree!

The rock formation in the picture is called, Tsurukame no Niwa, which means Crane and Tortoise Garden. It’s what Konchi-in Temple is known for.

Moss

In Japan, moss is considered an essential element. It grows in most Japanese gardens and imperial palaces, giving a rich green carpet look. They said moss represents tranquility. There is one beautiful moss garden at Konchi-in temple. The place was peaceful and quiet. You won’t see many people there, so it really gives off a tranquil vibe.

( Wait, forgive me, but I’m going to go a little off-topic. I’m a One Piece fan, so I can’t hold the fascination in. The nationality of Roronoa Zoro is Japanese. He has green hair and is teased by Sanji as Moss-head. Now I don’t think it’s a coincidence.)

Stone pagoda


In Japanese Zen gardens, you will see at least one stone pagoda. It represents human existence because it is something man-made. So when you look at the garden, there is heaven (rock formations that represent the Supreme Being), nature (represented by the trees, sand, and so on), and humans (stone pagoda).

Paths


Paths in Japanese gardens can mean a lot of things. They are also well-thought-out because they influence the visitors’ garden experience. Their designs, shapes, and alignments serve a different purpose.

Wide, even and formal pathways are usually entrances to temples.

Beautiful stoned uneven pathways often lead people to significant parts of the temple or essential objects.

In the next picture, the pathway leads to a 300-year-old painting at the door. It’s a road painting similar to the pathway. This symbolizes reality as the extension of the painting or vice versa.

These circular stone pathways run through the moss garden and to the tea garden. They are called tobi-ishi or skipping stones. They are 6 cm higher than the ground and are 3 or 5 cm away from each other. Since moss is vital to Japanese gardens, you can’t step on them and potentially damage them. Walk on the stones instead, but you have to be careful. I’d like to assume that tea masters would like visitors to slow down and maybe do a little meditation on the way to the tea garden.

There is a reservations-only tea room in Konchi-in Temple, also known as Hasso-seki. We were only able to see it, but I get why it is exclusive. Though I haven’t seen many tearooms yet, I’d say that this is one of the best. It has a view of the garden with a waterfall. Someday, I’d like to go to a tea ceremony with scenery as beautiful as this.

Common Spelling Mistakes Japanese Students Make

   I have been teaching for about five years now and these are the most common spelling mistakes my students make. Most of these mistakes happen because typical Japanese students write the word they are not familiar with as they pronounce it and also because Japanese hiragana and katakana are different from the English alphabets. 

R and L

  Almost every Japanese has had a spelling mistake with the r and l. They don’t have the l sound in their alphabets. You might have noticed that they pronounce /l/ as /r/, therefore they spell it that way too and vice versa. So, whenever I teach my students new words with the l and r, I always remind them to be careful. 

and d

  I am not sure if this is true for most Japanese students only. I may have been confused with b and d when I was a kid too. But I teach junior high school and I still see a number of students, especially first graders, get confused with the letters. Thankfully, there are many ways to correct this problem.

Double consonants – (tr,pr,gl,etc…)

  There are no double consonant sounds in the Japanese alphabets. Japanese students who are not familiar with the word will pronounce a double consonant sound in two syllables. For example, traffic – /toraffic/ and most probably will spell it like that too.

Double vowels – (ea, au, etc…)

   When we start learning English, the first things we learn are the alphabet and phonics. I am not sure how phonics is taught in elementary school here in Japan. But I do believe that it’s important to have a strong foundation in it. That means learning not only the alphabet sounds individually but also the double consonants, double vowels, long and short vowel sounds, silent letters, and syllables. If our students master these, they will be able to spell words more accurately. 

Words with /er/   

Watch out for these mistakes as well. In the Japanese language /er/ is pronounced as /ah/ as in computer – /computah/. So, er will be spelled as ar

Spaces between words   

Yes, I consider this as wrong spelling. I always remind my students about those words that should be written as one, separately, or with a hyphen. During my first year teaching, students would plead with me to consider their answers and I would give in. But mind you, they will repeat the same mistakes over and over. So whenever I teach them new vocabulary, especially compound nouns, I would tell them to be careful. A word written otherwise will not be accepted.

 

These are some of the minor yet common mistakes I see from my students every year. At first, I would check the mistakes one by one and let them go. But I see these same errors every time so I decided to give emphasis and tell my students to watch out for these spelling mistakes. And I also remind myself to be patient and kind in correcting them because if I don’t do it, they would keep misspelling the words until who knows when. 

Questions:

Do you remember some spelling mistakes you often had when you were younger?

What are the most misspelled words you often see students make? 

Let me know your answers. Comment down below or share this post with your own list. 

Thank you for reading.

Things I love about Kyoto

People who know me know that my favorite city in Japan is Kyoto. As a result, whenever I have long vacations from school, I would explore Kyoto for a day. Then I would talk about my trip to my co-workers, students, and family, and friends on social media. So why do I keep going back to Kyoto? Here are my reasons.

Easy access 

  Almost every city in Japan is easily accessible. I live in central Japan, and Kyoto is only a 2-hour car drive or three by trains. I usually take the train. At five in the morning, I take the first train to Maibara and take another going to Kyoto. By 9:30, I’d be in Kyoto station and start my adventure there. I first traveled by myself six months after I came to Japan. I only had “eki ha doko desu ka? (where is the station?)” and “kore ha ikura desu ka? (how much is this?) in my vocabulary. I couldn’t travel alone when I was in the Philippines, so that experience was truly freeing. And that is one of the reasons why I love being in Japan.

Best of both worlds


Traditional and modern. Kyoto has them both. I like learning about Japanese culture and I think Kyoto is the best place for it. I went to the Gion district and it was fascinating. It was like I was transported to an ancient Japan but still in a modern world. Besides that, I also learned a little bit about the geisha and maiko culture. I was also able to spot some maikos going to school to train. Knowing that there are still geisha performances, schools and tea houses where they work and serve, surprised me. Someday, I’d like to watch their shows, admire their very demure behavior and learn more about Japanese arts and history. Of course, you can also see skyscrapers, shopping malls, and electronic stores in Kyoto. But I like it even more because Kyoto, being an established and a business city, was able to preserve its culture and traditional beauty.

Temples and shrines


Kyoto has thousands of beautiful temples and shrines. You can’t go there and not see at least one or two of them. It’s what Kyoto is known for. It is one of the main reasons why I love it. I try to go to one or two temples or shrines every time I visit. I haven’t been to a lot yet. And I know it’ll take me years to be able to see them all. But that’s what makes it exciting. There are new things to see and do each time. My most favorite sights are Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kinkakuji temple, Toji temple and Nanzen-Ji temple. I have yet to visit Ginkakuji and Kiyomizu temple and some more, hopefully, this year.

Beautiful all-year-round

  I love that I can go to Kyoto in any season, and it is still going to take my breath away. The beauty of the sights filled with sakura or cherry blossom trees and other gorgeous flowers in spring is amazing. I love pink and sakura. It will never not be stunning to me. I went around Nanzen-ji temple with my mom in early April two years ago. We took photos on an old railroad filled with cherry blossom trees. I loved it! 

  In summer, you can see how green the trees are, wear a yukata, and go to a summer festival. It was summer when I toured the Gion District. If you’ve never been to Japan in summer, be aware that it gets scorching and humid, especially in August. But other than that, everything is lovely.

  In autumn, you can go to temples and fall in love with the vibrant colors of the leaves. I went to two temples in November, and the autumn foliage there was absolutely gorgeous. That day, I had three places to visit in my itinerary. I was supposed to go to the Eikando temple too. When I got there, it looked splendid and romantic from the outside. Then I looked around and saw that most people were couples or groups of friends and families. So I decided to cut short my trip and go back with my family, friends or maybe a special someone.

  I haven’t seen Kyoto in winter. But it’s going to be stunning for sure. I love snow! I hope next winter it will be safer to travel because I really miss going on adventures in Kyoto and continue to discover what it has to offer.

Do you know any good places to see and do in Kyoto in winter?